1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trouvère

TROUVÈRE, the name given to the medieval poets of northern and central France, who wrote in the langue d'oil or langue d'oui. The word is derived from the French verb trouver to find' or invent. The trouvéres flourished abundantly in the 12th and 13th centuries. They were court-poets who devoted themselves almost exclusively to the composition and recitation of a particular kind of song, for which the highest society of that day in France had an inordinate fondness. This poetry, the usual subject of which was some refinement of the passion of love, was dialectical rather than emotional. As Jeanroy has said, the best trouvères were those who “ into the smallest number of lines could put the largest number of ideas, or at least of those commonplaces which envelop thought in its most impersonal and coldest form.” The trouvères were not, as used to be supposed, lovers singing to their sweethearts, but they were the pedants and attorneys of a fantastic tribunal of sentiment. This was more monotonous in the hands of the trouveres than it had been in those of the troubadours, for the latter often employed their art for purposes of satire, religion, humour and politics, which were scarcely known to the poets of the northern language.

The established idea that the poetry of the trouvères was entirely founded upon imitation of that of the troubadours, has been ably combated by Paul Meyer, who comes to the conclusion that the poetry of the north of France was essentially no less original than that of the south. The passage of Raoul Glaber, in which he says that about the year 1000 southern men began to appear in France and in Burgundy, “ as odd in their ways as in their dress, and having the appearance of jongleurs, ” is usually quoted, but although this is valuable contemporary evidence, it proves neither what these “jongleurs” brought from the south nor what the poets of the north could borrow from them. The first appearance of trouvères seems to be much later than this, and to date from 1137, when Eléonore of Aquitaine, who was herself the granddaughter of an illustrious troubadour, arrived in the court of France as the queen of Louis VII. It is recorded that she continued to speak her native language, which would be the Poitiers dialect of the langue d'oc. She was queen for fifteen years (1137–1152), and this, no doubt, was the period during which the southern influence was strongest in the literature of northern France. There is not any question that the successive crusades tended to produce relations between the two sections of poetical literature. The great mass of the existing writings of the trouvères deals elaborately and artificially with the passion of love, as it had already been analysed in the langue d'oc. But those who are most inclined to favour the northern poets are obliged to confess that the latter rarely approach the grace and delicacy of the troubadours, while their verse shows less ingenuity and less variety. The earliest trouvères, like Cuene de Béthune and Huges de Berzé, in writing their amatory lyrics, were certainly influenced by what troubadours had written, especially when, like Bertrand de Born, these troubadours were men who wandered far and wide, under the glory of a great social prestige. We should know more exactly what the nature of the Provençal influence was if the songs of all the trouvères who flourished before the middle of the 12th century had not practically disappeared. When we become conscious of the existence of the trouveres, we find Cuene de Béthune in possession of the field, a poet of too much originality to be swept away as a mere imitator. At the same time, even Paul Meyer, who has been the great asserter of the independence of the poetry of northern France, is obliged to admit that if, at the end of the 12th century and throughout the 13th, several literary centres were formed where an amatory poetry, full of conventional grace, was held in high honour, it was because several princely courts in the south had set the example. In this sense it cannot be denied that the whole art of the trouvères was secondary and subsidiary to the art of the troubadours.

The poetical forms adopted by the trouvères bore curious and obscure names, the signification of which is still in some cases dubious. As a rule each poem belonged to one of three classes, and was either a rotruenge, or a serventois, or an estrabot. The rotruenge was a song with a refrain; the serventois was, in spite of its name, quite unlike the sirventes of the troubadours and had a more ribald character; the estrabot was allied to the strambotto of the Italians, and was a strophic form “ composed of a front part which was symmetrical, and of a tail which could be varied at will ” (Gaston Paris). But scholars are still uncertain as to the positive meaning of these expressions, and as to the theory of the verse-forms themselves.

The court poetry of the trouvères particularly flourished under the protection of three royal ladies. Marie, the regent of Champagne, was the practical ruler of that country from 1181 to 1197, and she encouraged the minstrels in the highest degree. She invited Ricaut de Barbezieux to her court, rewarded the earliest songs of Gace Brulé, and discussed the art of verse with Chrétien of Troyes. Her sister, Aélis or Alice, welcomed the trouvères to Blois; she was the protector of Gautier d'Arras and of Le Châtelain de Couci. A sister of the husbands of these ladies, another Aélis, who became the second queen of Louis VII. in 1160, received Cuene de Béthune in Paris, and reproved him for the Picard accent with which he recited his poetry. At the end of the 12th century we see that the refinement and elegance of the court-poets was recognized in the north of France by those who were responsible for the education of princes. A trouvère, Gui de Ponthieu, was appointed tutor to William III. of Macon, and another, Philippe of Flanders, to Philippe Auguste. The vogue of the trouvères began during the third crusade; it rose to its greatest height during the fourth crusade and the attack upon the Albigenses. The first forty years of the 13th century was the period during which the courtly lyrical poetry was cultivated with most assiduity. At first it was a purely aristocratic pastime, and among the principal trouvères were princes such as Thibaut IV. of Navarre, Louis of Blois and John, king of Jerusalem. About 1230 the taste for court poetry spread to the wealthy bourgeoisie, especially in Picardy, Artois and Flanders. Before its final decline, and after the courts of Paris and Blois had ceased to be its patrons, the poetry of the trouvères found its centre and enjoyed its latest successes at Arras. It was here that some of the most original and the most skilful of all the trouvères, such as Jacques Bretel and Adam de la Halle, exercised their art. Another and perhaps still later school flourished at Reims.

About 1280, having existed for a century and a half, the poetical system suddenly decayed and disappeared; the very names of the court-poets were forgotten. During this time the song, chanson, had been treated as the most dignified and honourable form of literature, as Dante explains in his De vulgari eloquentia. But the song, as the trouvères understood it, was not an unstudied or emotional burst of verbal melody; it was, on the contrary, an effort of the intelligence, a piece of wilful and elaborate casuistry. The poet was invariably a lover, devoted to a married lady who was not his wife, and to whose caprices he was bound to submit blindly and patiently, in an endless and resigned humility. The progress of this conventional courtship was laid down according to certain strict rules of ceremonial; love became a science and a religion, and was practised by the laws of precise etiquette.

The curious interest of the trouvères, for us, lies in the fact that during an age when the northern world was ignorant and brutal, sunken in a rude sensuality, the trouvères advanced a theory of morals which had its absurd and immoral side, but which demanded a devotion to refinement and a close attention to what is reserved, delicate and subtle in personal conduct. They were, moreover, when the worst has been admitted about their frigidity and triviality, refiners of the race, and they did much to lay the foundation of French wit and French intelligence. The trouvères have not enjoyed the advantage of the troubadours, whose feats and adventures attracted the notice of contemporary biographers. Little is known about their lives, and they pass across the field of literary history like a troop of phantoms. Close students of this body of somewhat monotonous poetry have fancied that they detected a personal note in some of the leaders of the movement. It is certainly obvious that Cuene (or Conon) de Béthune had a violence of expression which gives life to his chansons. The delicate grace of Thibaut of Champagne, the apparent sincerity of Le Châtelain de Couci, the descriptive charm of Moniot of Arras, the irony of Richard of Fournival, have been celebrated by critics who have perhaps discovered differences where none exist. It is more certain that Adam de la Halle, the hunchback of Arras, had a superb gift of versification. The rondel (published in E. de Coussemaker's edition, 1872) beginning
               “ A Dieu courant amourettes,
                    Car je m'en vois
                 Souspirant en terre estrange ! ”
marks perhaps the highest point to which the delicate, frosty art of the trouvères attained. Music took a prominent place in all the performances of the trouvéres, but in spite of the erudition of de Coussemaker, who devoted himself to the subject, comparatively little is known of the melodies which they used. But enough has been discovered to justify the general statement of Tiersot that “ we may conclude that the musical movement of the age of the trouvéres was derived directly from the most ancient form of popular French melody.” A precious MS. in the Faculty of Medicine of Montpellier contains the music of no fewer than 345 part-songs attributed to trouvères, and an examination of these enables a “ pitiless arranger ” to divine the air, the primitive, simple and popular melody.

The principal authorities on the poetry and music of the trouvères are: H. Binet, Le Style de la lyrique courtoise en France aux xiime et xiiime siècles (Paris, 1891); Gaston Paris, Les Origines de la poésie lyrique en France au moyen âge (Paris, 1892); A. Jeanroy, Les Origines de la poésie lyrique en France au moyen âge (Paris, 1889); Julian Tiersot, Histoire de la chanson populaire en France; E. de Coussemaker, Art harmonique aux xiime et xiiime siècles (Paris, 1865). The works of the principal trouvères have been edited: those of Le Châtelain de Coucy by F. Michel (1830); of Adam de la Halle by E. de Coussemaker (1872); of Conon de Béthune by Wallensköld (Helsingfors, 1891); of Thibaut IV., king of Navarre, by P. Tarbé (1851).  (E. G.)